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Pennsylvania Township Discontinues Fire-Based EMS Coverage

Breaking a tradition that dates to the 1950s, Haverford Township will discontinue using ambulance services provided by two volunteer fire companies and will contract with the University of Pennsylvania Health Systems for emergency medical services.

The township says the move will save $440,000 annually.

Llanerch Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company has provided service for 63 years, the Manoa Fire Company for 59. But with fewer volunteers available during critical hours, the costs of hiring emergency medical technicians to cover shifts, and concerns about response times, the Delaware County township elected to solicit bids for the critical service.

Such issues may become more common. "Townships all over the commonwealth will be faced with this," said Larry Gentile, Haverford Township manager.

Haverford commissioners recently voted to accept UPHS as the new provider, starting late this year or early next. Crozer Chester Medical Center and Narberth Ambulance also submitted bids.

UPHS has agreed to hire the 42 current full- and part-time EMTs and paramedics, provided they meet basic employment standards. They will get raises and be eligible for tuition reimbursements, Gentile said.

"Overall, this is a win-win situation for the township," said Gentile, who once volunteered for Llanerch and worked as a paramedic.

The annual budget for the township's emergency medical service is $1.76 million, operated at an annual $700,000 loss. With the change, the loss would be cut to $260,000, Gentile said.

Michael Norman, fire chief for the Manoa Fire Company, did not return calls for comment.

Carole Lieblein, board president for Llanerch Fire Company, said that it had planned to submit a bid as a combined service with Manoa, but that the township would not accept the proposal.

Lieblein was disturbed by what she called a lack of transparency and the "unprofessional" way the deal was handled.

"It is a shame to see the system go," she said, "and it is a shame to see how it was done."

Lieblein was concerned that a few of the 40 EMTs, some of whom are older, would not be hired by Penn and that Penn's no-smoking policy might be an issue.

Llanerch "wrote off" what the insurance companies wouldn't reimburse for members, who paid $40 a year for the service, said Lieblein. "I don't see Penn doing that." She said Manoa had a similar policy.

Gentile said the two fire companies approached the township last year with concerns over mounting costs. Since they had problems staffing the ambulances, he said, they were not invited to bid.

While locations have not been finalized, one ambulance would be housed in the Haverford College area, one at the township building on Darby Road, and a third in the Manoa/Bon Air section, Gentile said.

"Nothing is going to change," said Gentile. "Patients will still go to the closest appropriate hospital."

"It's sad to see it go," said Steve D'Emilio, commissioner for the First Ward. D'Emilio, who also is a longtime member and current treasurer of Manoa Fire Company, said that the system was good for the community but that fire companies could not keep up with the costs of paying EMTs.

"You have to look at the financial aspects," D'Emilio said, adding the new arrangement would be closely monitored.

"This system was never planned; it evolved," said McCans. "Decisions were made along the way that were appropriate for the times. Circumstances have changed."

Volunteers will not be cut out entirely, said Gentile. An SUV-type Quick Response Vehicle will be housed at the two fire stations, he said, and will be available for EMT volunteers to respond to incidents to assist paid staff.

mschaefer@phillynews.com



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